Longtime Oregon political influencer Gerry Frank dies
Oregon lost its global ambassador, its "third senator" and its human Rolodex on Sunday, March 13: Gerry Frank.
Frank, 98, was a fourth-generation Oregonian who came to Salem in the 1950s to open and manage Meier & Frank's first branch store.
But his influence was global: serving as Sen. Mark Hatfield's chief of staff for 20 years; interacting with world leaders, from Tony Blair to Mother Teresa, and visiting more than 150 countries; writing and continually updating a bestselling guidebook to New York City, and one about Oregon; and influencing regional philanthropy.
And, of course, for 60 consecutive years Frank judged the Oregon State Fair's chocolate cake contest that bore his name, taking swigs of water and Pepto-Bismol and answering audience questions between bites. The pandemic halted that crowd-pleasing event, making 2019 the finale.
"The word 'icon' is tossed around too freely, but Gerry Frank really was an Oregon icon," former state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose said. "Gerry was an influencer before there was social media, but his influence was in a quiet, understated way. He knew people in every corner of this state, in every corner of the world."
Gov. Kate Brown noted that Frank sometimes was called Oregon's third senator, a tribute to his behind-the-scenes political influence.
"He also advised countless governors throughout the years, myself included," she said Sunday. "I am lucky to have called Gerry a trusted counselor and friend."
Brown, Johnson and others had lauded Frank last summer at the dedication of the Gerry Frank Salem Rotary Amphitheater in Salem's Riverfront Park.
"Before Facebook, before Twitter, before all the social media we now depend on, there was Gerry Frank," Johnson said that day. "If you knew Gerry, you were linked in, before there was LinkedIn."
The clout he developed across Oregon could sway multi-million-dollar philanthropic decisions or gain a patient access to a needed heart procedure. The state guidebook he wrote, "Gerry Frank's Oregon," is peppered with names of people and favorite places to eat and stay. His longtime office was adorned with hundreds of framed letters and autographed photos of individuals he'd met, from President George W. Bush to Queen Elizabeth and Lucille Ball, along with a slew of Oregonians. His work files included his contacts for 150,000 individuals worldwide.
A boss with high expectations, he counted on his staff to provide excellent customer service, whether they were government employees working for Hatfield or private employees at Frank's dessert restaurant in Salem. He lived by example, greeting people at the door for meetings and writing copious thank-you notes.
In 2000, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber proclaimed Republican Frank as the first "Oregon Premier Citizen." In 2015, the Oregon Legislature unanimously passed a resolution honoring him "for his venerable civic, political, entrepreneurial, literary and culinary contributions to the people of this state and for his many years of service to his community, state and country."
Hatfield and Frank personified "The Oregon Way," where achieving common ground far outweighs partisanship. They hired qualified individuals on Hatfield's staff regardless of party affiliation. They worked diligently with Democrats, including Congressman Les AuCoin and Oregon governors.
"Today politicians talk about working both sides of the political aisle," Johnson said Sunday. "Gerry never had to work at it. He came by it naturally. He understood that everybody wants to be seen and heard."
A previous story can be found here.
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